So I just got back from Burma. Yes, I still call it that.
I get excited when we break through the clouds to see the rice fields dotted with golden pagodas. That is, as much as you can get excited when you’re brain dead and saddle sore from 24 hours of travel.
Burma is fairly homogenized–80% Buddhist. Yet diverse–there are over 250 languages. It has breathtaking views. And ugly slums. It’s GDP per capita is well below the poverty line (about the same as Syria). Yet, there are the very rich. In fact, I was shocked that the Rangoon airport is now home to high-end retailers such as Bolova, Swarovski, and Dolce and Gabbana–a sign that Burma (where we couldn’t use plastic of any kind up until a few years ago) is rapidly changing.
Some things needed to change. Decades of violence, persecution, and poverty.
Then there are a few memories I want to hold on to forever.
Time won’t permit me to do more than scratch the surface, but here are a few snapshots from this recent trip.
Long Drives. Long Days.
We waited several hours for our pick up ride to Hope. There’s nothing quite like spending four days in travel for five days in country…and then spend the better part of the first day waiting for a ride.
My “to do” oriented mind took a little while to adjust to new pace. But I really had no choice. And before long, I was loving how I lose all concept of time in Burma. I can go an entire day without looking at a calendar or a clock.
I spent a lot of time driving around in the back of a truck last week. And a lot of time just sitting with a kid on my lap. Or walking around holding little hands.
I did nothing. I loved it.
The Joys of Hard Work
A lot of hard work was done while we were there. Just not by me.
The official purpose of our visit mostly centered around the finishes for Hope Children’s Home, the facility Remember constructed in 2015. We have been investing in the lives of about 60 kids from difficult (or non-existent) family situations over the past several years.
The men on the team worked diligently on woodworking, plumbing, and electrical needs. I love how they incorporated the kids into their work and started teaching them valuable trade skills.
And then in the evenings, they would join in and play, sing, and strum guitars with the whole bunch.
They even wore the “man skirt;” Longyi.
When we arrived, I couldn’t miss just how grungy some of the kids looked. Especially the little ones. They have neat, clean school uniforms, but on days when they are off, anything will do. And I mean anything. In fact, it doesn’t have to be clothes; tattered pajamas work just as well. Not only would the fashion police have locked them up permanently, but during this “dry” season, the dirt had no respect for their laundry efforts.
I was especially taken with one of the youngest little girls. She was making do with a tank top that was so ill fitting, the neck line hung halfway to her waist. In the modest culture, she made up for the lack of fabric by wearing a fleece jacket with a broken zipper. She tried to hold it closed but it was eighty something degrees, and beside that, it’s hard to play frisbee while holding a jacket closed.
I was kind of surprised since we have brought and bought the kids clothes recently. But then, I’m still learning about how things unfold at Hope. So we made it a point to at least get some new shirts for all the younger girls. Not trying to leave anything to chance, Anita and I brought them inside and had them each change into their new shirt. But as soon as we sent them on their merry way, they changed back into their old shirts. Maybe they were saving the new ones. Maybe they were too young to care. But we weren’t clothes heroes this time around. Kinda funny in a way.
Mind you, I did confiscate the ill-fitting tank top. And I have no regrets.
I’ve been to Burma ten times. And I’ve learned about ten names. Maybe.
They are just hard. They are all different, yet all the same. So…foreign.
So this time, I tried. Really tried to learn their names. I didn’t get them all, but you can see I had good teachers:
American Isn’t All Bad
Two words: look closely.
The Second Plague
So, just to give you some context on this one, I hate frogs. They are spiders, snakes, and mosquitos all rolled into one for me. There is something about croaking sliminess that jumps that I prefer to live with out.
So here you go:
Yes, that is a frog on the toilet paper roll.
But that wasn’t the worst. Here’s the moment that could have made you rich if you had it on video:
I was in the girls’ dorm where we were trying to do a bit of a makeover on the bathroom. I tried to demonstrate for the little girls how to take a shower in the inside stalls–instead of the outside cistern.
Since my Burmese is rather, uh, limited, I was relying heavily on charades to explain to them what and how while fully dressed in one of the stalls. I thought I had a rapped audience until one of the girls’ interrupted:
I looked where she was pointing in time to see an enormous frog perched on wall inches from my nose.
So the demonstration ended rather abruptly into giggles as I jumped out of that stall faster than was probably necessary to avoid being eaten alive by the slight green monster.
One of the boys asked me to read to him and I promised I would after dinner. Then I promptly forgot.
But he didn’t forget. After dinner, he sought me out with Curious George in tow. We settled down in the library and I read the book. Then another. And another. And another. And another. A small group listened attentively through eight full Curious George books.
The craziest part: they couldn’t understand a word.
They listened attentively through page after page of Curious George randomness in a foreign language.
These kids are so different. So much less saturated in media and entertainment. So much more willing to engage in simple games–bubbles, Frisbee, or hopscotch. They love to laugh, love to play, love to give, love be affectionate.
Mind you, they are still kids. Still under construction. Still in need of discipline. Teaching. Parenting. But for everything I could teach them, there is something they could teach me.
They are lovely in a way that their mug shots just don’t communicate and in a way that made me absolutely fall in love.
One more story that I just have to tell. The little ones and I were entertaining ourselves by making music videos. It was good fun all around. But we got to one particularly cute song and I accidently messed up the settings on my phone and it turned out like this:
Again, using charades, I tried to explain to the little crowd of girls (and boys who had joined) that their faces were washed out and we needed to re-tape. I kept trying to demonstrate until the light bulb seemed to come on for one of the girls and she began urgently explaining the problem to the other kids.
“Sorry! Sorry!” They all chorused and went running off.
I was completely surprised to see them all rush to a tub of dirty dishwater and vigorously scrub their faces. They were still apologizing when they got back until I was the one in tears apologizing.
They thought I was telling them we needed to redo it because they were dirty. They thought I didn’t like runny noses and crusty eyes. But it wasn’t that at all.
I need to learn Burmese. I love these people
After dinner, the kids had devotions. They play guitar and sing beautifully. They especially love to sing into a microphone being blasted through a needlessly large amp cranked up enough to make an airliner need earplugs.
Some songs they sang in English including:
This is my desire
To honor You
Lord, with all my heart
I worship You
All I have within me
I give You praise
All that I adore
Is in You
Lord, I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for you alone
And every breath that I take
Every moment I’m awake
Lord, have Your ways in me
I don’t know that they understand the lyrics completely. Maybe none of us do. But I know this: I want them to understand. I want them to mean it. And if a passion for Christ can be shared, I hope we understand and mean it well enough that we can share it with them.
And I hope it requires a few more trips.
After praise and testimonies from the team, we prayed together. In fact, they had our team gather and they surrounded us and prayed for us. All sixty of them. All at once. It was my turn to not understand a word. But it was the most beautiful sound. Sixty young voices lifted in heartfelt prayer for us.
And if you were there, you would have too.
There you have it. I’ve taken several thousand words and I’ve barely scratched the surface. But it’s the best I can do in a single blog post.
And to all of you who sponsor these kids or to gave to the construction of Hope, so many thanks! Maybe, one day, you can come and get your own fresh cut flowers, original artwork, and custom jewelry. And maybe you can be part of passing on a passion for Christ that enables us to sing together: Lord I give you my heart…have your way in me.